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Time Management

Motivation is the process that initiates, guides, and maintains our goal-oriented behaviours. In every day terms, motivation is used to describe why a person chooses to do something—it's the driving force behind our decisions.

For example, as a student, motivation is what helps you focus on studying or work harder on assignments even when you feel confused or frustrated at first. Motivation causes you to act in a way that gets you closer to your goals.

In this section, we'll talk about how to stay motivated as a student, and we'll discuss how to get things done even when you don't feel like it.

How Dopamine Affects the Motivation Cycle

What comes first—action, or motivation?

According to our brains, it all depends on dopamine.

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter (aka the chemical in your brain) that's associated with feeling rewarded or motivated. It helps us strive for new goals, it helps us feel focused, and it helps us find things interesting—and it also motivates us to stick with a task until we get a reward.

The Motivation Cycle works like this:

  1. First, you take action,
  2. Then you get a reward for that action, and then
  3. You have motivation to take action again (and the cycle continues).

Motivation Cycle chart.

Most of us get stuck here—we often think we need to feel motivated first before we can take action, when it's actually the opposite.

For example, you might find yourself thinking, "I don't feel like writing this assignment right now, so I'll wait until I feel motivated", only to find yourself procrastinating until the night before the assignment is due.

Instead, you could commit to working on the assignment for only 20 minutes each day, and chances are you'll find it easier to keep going once you start seeing your progress.

To find success with long-term goals, it's important to schedule time to work on your goal and to take action regularly so that your ongoing progress becomes the reward that builds your motivation.

How to Stay Motivated as a Student

Most of us start the new term with lots of motivation—but staying motivated as the term wears on can be a challenge. Watch this video to learn a few actions you can take to train (and retain!) your motivation right through to your final exams.

Tips to Stay Motivated

  • Improve your self talk: How we talk to ourselves can build or decrease our motivation—pick one small thing to work on first, and then congratulate yourself on finishing it. It could be looking over your SLATE ahead of class, or highlighting a page of notes, or sending an email with a question to your professor. Give yourself the chance to feel that accomplishment!
  • Move in the smallest possible way: If you're still not feeling motivated to try a task, try to move even a little bit. Walk around your room for five minutes, or go and get a glass of water—these small actions can help shift your mindset enough to help you start a new task.
  • Set a timer: If you're having trouble getting started, set a timer and commit to acting for that small amount of time. For example, you could tell yourself you'll write an assignment for just five minutes, and then you can stop if you want. Remember to give yourself some praise for doing that task—this will help you associate action with a reward (e.g. getting praise from yourself), which can motivate you to keep going.

The goal is to build up your intrinsic rewards—if you want to have lasting motivation, you need to build up your internal sense of pride that comes from accomplishing something you care about.

Pause & Reflect

  • What do you really care about and what do you value?
  • How do you stay motivated? Do you look for internal rewards (e.g. taking pride in yourself, love of learning, etc.) or external rewards (e.g. good grades, praise from other people, etc.)?
  • How do you track your accomplishments and schedule your time so you can achieve your goals?